Legal twists allow Pampanga city mayor to hold on to power for 17 straight yearsInquirer Northern Luzon
Marino “Boking” Morales has been serving as mayor of Mabalacat town, now a component city of Pampanga, for 17 years now. In the May elections, he is seeking another term.
Morales, who lost his first mayoral bid in 1992 to the late Mayor Catalino Domingo, became chief executive of Mabalacat in 1995 and was reelected in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 elections.
Except for a six-month suspension in 1999 and a month-and-a-half of turning over his post to his vice mayor in 2007, Morales occupied the mayor’s office from July 1, 1995 until this day.
The Local Government Code of 1991 (Republic Act No. 7160) prohibits any person from occupying an elective office for more than three consecutive terms.
If this is the case, how did Morales hurdle the three-term limit rule set by the law?
Some residents said he has good lawyers, who included election lawyer Romulo Macalintal. Some said it was sheer luck.
Just like most elected officials, Morales perennially faced electoral protests filed by his political opponents and losing candidates. However, it was these cases that enabled him to become an eligible mayoral candidate every election for 17 years now.
Morales earlier said that it never crossed his mind that a successful electoral protest against him would pave the way for him to become a long-time mayor of Mabalacat.
Shortly after the 1998 elections, the late businessman Anthony Dee, who contested Morales’ reelection bid, sought the court’s intervention for the revision of the ballots.
On April 2, 2001, the Angeles City Regional Trial Court Branch 57 ruled that it was Dee who won the 1998 mayoral election. But due to a series of motions and counteractions, the court’s decision did not become final and executory until Aug. 6, 2001—barely three months after Morales won the 2001 mayoral contest and was already serving his third term as mayor.
Dee never had the chance to serve and perform his duties as mayor.
Morales filed his certificate of candidacy for the same post in the 2004 elections. His move resulted in the filing of disqualification cases against him by his political opponents before the Commission on Elections. They argued that he had already completed three consecutive terms—from 1995 to 2004.
Morales cited the “interruptions” in his terms as grounds for his eligibility to seek another term, which included his suspension from Jan. 16 to June 15, 1999, due to a graft case that was eventually dismissed and the court’s proclamation of Dee’s victory in the 1998 elections.
On May 4, 2004, the Comelec’s second division ruled that Morales was disqualified to run for mayor in the May 10, 2004 elections and canceled his certificate of candidacy, saying he had served three consecutive terms and could no longer run for a fourth term.
After filing a motion for reconsideration, the Comelec en banc allowed Morales to run. He was reelected.
On March 14, 2005, while Morales was already serving as mayor for 10 consecutive years, the Comelec en banc reversed the second division’s resolution, saying Morales was eligible to run for mayor in the 2004 elections.
Had Morales’ rivals decided to accept the Comelec en banc’s resolution, the mayor would be eligible to run for reelection only until the 2007 elections, with his lawful term starting in 2001.
But the disqualification case against Morales was elevated to the Supreme Court, which issued decisions that eventually allowed him to run for reelection until 2013.
On May 9, 2007, the high court reversed the 2005 Comelec en banc’s decision and canceled Morales’ certificate of candidacy for the 2004 elections after ruling that he was not eligible to have run in the 2004 elections because he was a fourth-term candidate.
The high court ordered him to vacate his post to then Vice Mayor Prospero Lagman, who acted as mayor for a month and 14 days, from May 16 to June 30, 2007.
The high court’s ruling, which declared that “Morales cannot be considered a candidate in the May 2004 elections,” made him eligible to run for reelection in the 2010 elections and seek a third term in the May 13, 2013 elections.
The separate electoral case seeking to disqualify Morales from running for reelection in 2007, “for fully serving three terms from 1998 to 2007” with only a very short period of interruption, was junked by the Comelec second division on July 27, 2007 and by the Comelec en banc on Feb. 14, 2008.
The Comelec said he “was considered not a candidate in the 2004 synchronized national and local elections.” “Hence, his failure to qualify for the 2004 elections is a gap and allows him to run again for the same position in the May 14, 2007 national and local elections,” the poll body said. Jun Malig in Mabalacat City